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Foreign, not deaf

Human interactions are fascinating, especially when the people involved in the linguistic exchange don’t share a common language. Picture the following scenario: a native speaker attempts to communicate with a foreigner. The native says something and the non-native looks puzzled. Then the native repeats the exact same thing in the exact same order and speed, just 30 decibels louder. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, language comics, life abroad, native speaker yelling to foreigner

My hearing works perfectly, thank you very much. I’m foreign, not deaf. Shouting is not going to magically make me speak your language or understand words that I haven’t previously learnt. Rephrase, use simpler structures, find more basic vocabulary… anything but yelling.

Two people don’t need a common language to communicate. They just need to be willing to understand each other.

British Sinks

Being abroad can be a nerve-racking adventure in which even the most common daily routines become a hilarious challenge. Take washing your hands for instance. British sinks are the place where dragon fire meets penguin tears. They have two taps: the hot one will scald your hands, whereas the cold one will shatter them into frozen pieces. So, why do British sinks have separate taps for hot and cold water? Foreigners around the world have asked themselves that question for decades.Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, British sinks, cold and warm water taps, faucets

Back in the day when our grandparents were toddlers, houses didn’t have hot running water, just cold water that came from a main supply. Later on, hot water systems were added separately to each building for safety and health reasons.

British plumbers were concerned about the pressure difference between cold and warm water. The first came from a main supply with a much higher pressure than the latter, which was stored in a tank inside each house and relied on gravity. In case of an imbalance of pressures, one stream could force its way into the other and pose a number of problems.

There were also health risks involved. Old tanks were made of galvanized steel, which corrodes easily; and they didn’t usually have a proper lid, which made the tank an AquaLand for errant birds, distracted insects and sweaty rodents in need of a swim. Squatting fauna aside, hot water sitting in an attic tank was not considered safe to drink, for it created the optimal conditions for bacteria like legionella to proliferate and wreak havoc on human stomachs. So, what did the Brits do? They came up with regulations to keep them separate and prevent the hot water contaminating the cold water supply.

You might be thinking: “Sure, but that was YEEEARS ago. Why haven’t they switched to mixer taps yet?” – Well, in a word: tradition. Whereas continental Europe reinvented its water supply system after the war, Britain rebuilt its houses clinging onto the separate taps tradition. Chances are that mixer taps will take over in the future, but in the meantime, have fun flapping your hands between the two taps when washing them.Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, travel and language comics, tea, United Kingdom, British problems

* Eurovision Special *

Most Americans have never heard of Eurovision, and those who have, think of it as some sort of gay Super Bowl. I understand why this event might be puzzling for the American folks, but WE love it – of course we do, it has the word “euro” in it.
Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, Eurovision for Americans

My American sweetie pie witnessed his first Eurovision Song Contest back in 2016. He was skeptical at first, but halfway through the show he gave in. Pretty much like most things in Europe, the event just sucks you in. And it’s easy to see why it is such a blast:

~ The sense of togetherness

Historically speaking, Europeans haven’t always been nice to each other. However, at least once a year we put aside our differences and celebrate our kinship through music, our common language.

~ The vibrant mixture of cultures, languages and traditions

Despite the fact that Eurovision performances have become more and more mainstream and most artists choose English for their lyrics, deep down each song displays the identity of its country. Like attending a party, everyone brings a different flavor to the table, and the result is a very colorful portrait of one big European family.

~ The historical value

The first Eurovision Song Contest was hosted in Switzerland in 1956, which makes the show an event with a long-standing tradition. It’s genuinely interesting to watch former editions and see how music and values have evolved over the decades.

~ The authenticity

Whether you are a conventional, professional musician or use a watering can as a trumpet; whether you pull off a traditional opera show or a seizure-inducing pyrotechnic spectacle, no one is going to judge your craziness. Sing, dance, bounce around, just get on stage and have fun doing whatever it is that makes you happy. Zero fucks given, just be yourself!

Not convinced yet? Try it yourself! Happy Eurovision! : )

Finns & Interpersonal Interactions

With only 16 people per square kilometer, Finland is the least populated country in Europe. If you leave the Helsinki area, chances are that your nearest neighbor lives one forest and a couple of lakes away – or maybe half a poronkusema away. Having grown up with such distances between one another, it’s not surprising that Finns take their personal space very seriously.

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, Finns and Interpersonal InteractionsWe all have a proxemic bubble that represents our personal, three-dimensional space. We let friends get closer, but when strangers enter our imaginary bubble, we feel threatened and attempt to flee. In Southern Europe, the acceptable interpersonal distance between acquaintances and strangers is diminutive, and the further north you go, the more the bubble expands.

In Scandinavian countries, one meter might be pushing the limit of comfortable space between strangers, which – from our foreign perspective – may lead to some funny interactions in populated urban areas. It starts with public transportation: Finns would rather stand for the whole length of their trip than to sit next to a stranger on a bus. If you happen to sit in a seat adjacently occupied by a fellow Finn, they will readily vacate theirs whenever another row of seats becomes available. At first it may leave you wondering if something is wrong with you. If you are standing around – say, waiting for the bus – and come too close to a fellow Finn, they will promptly move a few steps away. Worry not, dear foreigner, they are just safeguarding their bubble.Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, Finns and Interpersonal InteractionsMoving on to kinesics, you may notice that gestures and eye contact in Suomi are rare. Gesticulating too much might make you come off as a frantic, eccentric weirdo. Keep your extremities paced. On the same note, eye contact is one of the ways in which we regulate communication: it signals that we are listening to our conversational partner or that we are ready to respond. Whereas staring into each other is customary in many cultures, maintaining eye contact in Finland qualifies as uncomfortable and even threatening. Glancing away is the norm – regardless of how interesting your topic might be – but they will always come back to you to acknowledge that they are following the conversation.Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, Finns and Interpersonal Interactions

And what about the human touch? Picture the following scenario: you are at the workplace and your colleague Matti Meikäläinen just got promoted. Congratulations, Matti! If you think a pat in the back is in order, don’t. Finns are quite reserved in their haptics and they don’t like being touched unless you have an intimate connection with them. Now picture a social gathering or juhla where you are introduced to someone. Going all southern on them with two pecks on the cheek upon introduction will immediately make you the creepy nutcase of the party (I learnt this the hard way). Refrain yourself, a brief handshake will suffice.

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, Finns and Interpersonal InteractionsDespite the apparent cold demeanor, Finland does have one thing going for it. This seemingly emotionless, reserved behavior derives from a highly practical mindset: Finns don’t like wasting their time with small talk or faking social interactions. It might take a while to tear down all the icy layers, but once you do, Finns can be the most straightforward and reliable friends you’ll ever find.